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For the Love of Food

by | Apr 4, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week low-fat diets get the boot, calorie restricted monkeys are vindicated, and morning sunshine keeps you slim.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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For the Love of Food

by | Feb 21, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week low-fat dairy is pointless, farmers may plant foods that are actually healthy, and how the color red can help you eat less.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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For the Love of Food

by | Dec 20, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week multivitamins are under attack, the truth about gluten and Alzheimer’s disease, and why you don’t know how many calories are actually in a pound.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Read the rest of this post »

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10 Reasons You Hate To Cook (And What To Do About It)

by | Jul 25, 2012

Photo by liber

I don’t like the word hate and try not to use it. I especially dislike it when it is applied to any kind of food or cooking.

Do you really hate asparagus? Or are you just whining about something you haven’t bothered to learn to appreciate? Yeah, I thought so.

My theory is that most people who profess to hate cooking are actually just making excuses to avoid it. Why would anyone really hate cooking? What did cooking ever do to you?

The sad part is that cooking is a wonderful skill to have. Not only does it save you time and money on food, it can also contribute to better health, bring you closer to friends and family, and be a great creative outlet for stress.

You don’t have to love cooking, but knowing the basics and feeling competent in the kitchen can open a world of opportunity to improve your quality of life. But sure, go ahead and hate it if you want.

For the cautiously curious, here are a few of the obstacles that may be preventing you from getting past your pessimism and what to do to get over them.

10 Reasons You Hate To Cook

(And What To Do About It)

1. You suck at it

The first thing you need to do is understand the difference between not liking cooking and not liking to be bad at cooking. Big difference. I didn’t like being bad at cooking either, but there is a pretty easy solution: learn how. It’s much easier than you think.

2. You’re slow

I know you’re busy. We all have better things to do than slave away over one lousy meal. But when you aren’t experienced in the kitchen the planning, shopping, chopping, cooking and cleaning involved in making a meal can feel like it takes forever. That’s because it does.

I can always spot a kitchen rookie by how long it takes them to chop an onion (seriously it takes like 20 seconds max). The good news is with a little practice and some decent knives (see point 3) you can slash the time you spend making a meal until you barely notice.

Ditto for cleaning up. Seriously, put some muscle into it and it’s over in no time!

3. You have crappy knives

I generally don’t advise spending money to solve problems, but knives in the kitchen are an exception. Spending $50 on a half-way decent chef’s knife can do wonders for your kitchen confidence and efficiency.

And you probably already know what an inspiration a shiny new toy can be.

4. You pick complicated recipes

Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten have less than 5 ingredients. If you’ve never cooked anything in your life, cassoulet shouldn’t be your first choice.

Rather than finding a recipe and deciding to cook it, start with an ingredient that is seasonal and you know you enjoy. It’s hard to mess up kale and garlic. Learn to fly before you jump off a cliff.

5. You choose out of season ingredients

The main reason people don’t like _(fill in the vegetable)_ is because they have only had it from industrial farms that grow foods out of season. I agree, you’d have to be a masochist to like these impostors.

Farmers markets and dedicated produce stands are your friends. In season ingredients taste worlds better than the out of season stuff shipped from the opposite hemisphere. Your food doesn’t have to be 100% local, but at least pick foods that grow in the same season you happen to be living in. This alone could completely change your cooking experience.

6. Your pantry is inadequate

It can be really annoying to flip through a recipe book or food blog and realize that you need to make one or many grocery trips in order to make any dish because you don’t have olive oil, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar or red chili flakes. If you don’t know what belongs in a basic pantry, check out my free How to get started eating healthy guide for a rundown.

7. You cook everything to death

Just because your mom cooked broccoli until it was dark gray and could be eaten by an infant doesn’t mean that’s how food is supposed to be prepared. Most vegetables cook quickly and taste better when they haven’t been incinerated. When your vegetables turn bright green in the pan, that’s your cue that the cooking is nearly done.

8. You only cook for large groups

Your first cooking forays shouldn’t be huge productions. Start simply and don’t bite off more than you can chew by promising to host a dinner or bring food to a potluck of 30 people. Start by volunteering to help in the kitchen with someone who knows what they’re doing. Make a side dish, or a simple one pot meal for yourself.

Practice makes perfect, and you want your first experiences to go smoothly to build your skills and confidence.

9. You only cook for special occasions

New cooks don’t need any extra pressure in the kitchen. If you’re just learning your way around the range, maybe you should hold off on hosting Thanksgiving dinner or Mother’s day brunch. It can be stressful to just coordinate a large meal, you don’t need the added pressure of possibly ruining a family holiday. If you want to contribute, volunteer to make the salad or biscuits. Start your real kitchen adventures in the privacy of your own home.

10. You don’t ask for help

If you are truly new to cooking, you may as well acknowledge that you will be slow and lack the basic skills and intuition of a seasoned chef. You are definitely capable of getting there, but in the mean time make your experience as pleasant as possible by letting others contribute their expertise and knife skills when you want to cook. It is also nice to have an extra pair of hands for cleanup.

Do you really hate cooking? Or are you just looking around the room and saying that you hate things?

Originally published May 31, 2010.

ATTENTION: Due to the excessive negativity of some recent commenters, I am permanently closing the comments on this post. If the contents of this article make you want to scream in rage, stab someone, punch a wall, or hurl yourself off a bridge, I suggest you find a therapist.

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I Love You Mom, But You Suck At Cooking Vegetables

by | Jun 18, 2012

Photo by Telephone Melts

A strange thing happens to some people after their first few experiences with perfectly cooked farmers market vegetables. It is not always easy to admit, but after awhile you might find yourself thinking that the veggies you grew up eating were, ahem, pretty horrible.

It is common for people of both my generation and my parents’ generation to have been raised on frozen spinach, canned beets, over-steamed carrots and boiled broccoli—foods that would make anyone with taste buds pick up their fork and run to the nearest steakhouse.

Is it any wonder that vegetables rarely rank on anyone’s favorite foods list?

Unfortunately, sometimes these negative early experiences can create life long food aversions that could have been avoided with a little extra TLC in the kitchen. They also help propagate the unhealthy eating habits that are now so common in America.

But our exposure to bad vegetables isn’t really Mom’s fault. Over the past 50 years America has been seduced by the allure of convenience. We’ve come to believe that meals come in packages and cooking is too hard and time consuming to bother with. We rely on supermarkets for our fruits and vegetables, which we expect to be the same year round.

The watering down of our food culture is directly responsible for our vegetables losing flavor (they are bred for shelf life, not taste) and us losing our ability to make them palatable. As a result vegetables have become an afterthought, something we eat from guilt and obligation, not from love.

But the good news is that this trend is reversing. People are starting to understand that where food comes from is important and has a tremendous impact on how it tastes. We are learning that it is worth it to go out of our way and spend a little extra money (at least occasionally) for the best ingredients. Restaurants are beginning to pride themselves on serving locally sourced foods–it is no longer uncommon to see farm names printed next to ingredients on menus here in San Francisco.

Focusing on quality ingredients and real foods is forcing us to reexamine cooking as well. I remember how surprised I was the first time I realized that instant oatmeal only saves about 3 minutes compared to real oatmeal and that sautéing fresh spinach is easier than making a bag of the soggy frozen kind. Not only are we starting to understand that taste is worth sacrificing a little convenience for here and there, but also that the inconvenience we feared isn’t as big a deal as we might have guessed.

But not everyone has been converted quite yet.

Learning to shop for and cook seasonal foods does involve a learning curve, and the first steps are always the most difficult and intimidating. (These aren’t exactly skills we pick up in school or learn in our daily lives.) To get and cook real food requires finding local farmers markets and knowing how to work a stove, for starters. Since farmers markets don’t usually run daily, a bit of foresight and planning are necessary if you hope to make it a part of your weekly routine. Working a stove demands some basic understanding of how food reacts when heated.

One of the reasons I wrote Foodist is to show you that these things aren’t actually as difficult as they may seem at first. And once you acquire just a few basic cooking skills—stir fry in olive oil, oven roasting, basic grain and legume preparation—expanding your culinary repertoire to include dozens of your favorite dishes isn’t much of a stretch.

One of the perks of starting with great ingredients is that messing up a meal is much more difficult than it is when you start with low-quality ingredients and rely on additional hacks and seasonings to mask the lack of flavor. Bad vegetables are almost always either over-cooked or under-salted, so if you can get these right you are most of the way there. Just a few extra seasoning tricks like garlic, chili flakes or lemon zest can elevate almost any green vegetable into something worth building a meal around.

Cooking vegetables well is neither an art nor a science. Learn to prepare a few of your favorites well, then branch out from there. Then next time you visit your parents, maybe you can volunteer to cook dinner and show them how broccoli is supposed to taste.

Have bad childhood memories turned you off to any foods?StumbleUpon.com

Modified since originally published on March 8, 2010.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 14, 2011

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

This week the emphasis seems to be on the value of whole foods over single nutrients or supplements. Check out my article on the danger of vitamin E supplements over at KQED, the cool new study about why whole broccoli is better than its single nutrients as well as a cool trick for preventing avocados from browning.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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What To Look For When Picking Fruits And Vegetables

by | Aug 17, 2011

Photo by Vvillamon

Most people know instinctively to avoid bruised or blemished produce, but there is much more involved in the art of choosing fruits and vegetables.

While buying fresh food is always a little bit of a craps shoot (and not every rule will apply to every piece of produce), these tips will give you the basic skills you need to hold your own at the farmers market.

What To Look For When Picking Produce

1. Bright color

After you’ve checked for bruises, blemishes and pests (harder to see on vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage, so double check), look for fruits and vegetables with the brightest, most inviting colors. The tastiest, vine-ripened produce should be vibrant, with its skin entirely saturated with color. If the item has a dull color or whitish sheen that means it is either not fully ripe or was deprived of sun or nutrients.

For fruits like cherries look for stems that are green instead of brown, since these fruits will be fresher.

2. Heavy weight

Generally you want to pick produce that is the heaviest relative to the rest of your options. Light weight produce is more likely to be dry and mealy, but heavier produce will be juicy and crisp.

The best way to tell is to pick up two similarly sized fruits, one with each hand. After you’ve tried a few it will be obvious that certain fruits are much heavier than the rest, and those are your best bets. This applies to both fruits and vegetables, but mostly to fruits.

3. Firm, but not hard

Because the best produce is moist and juicy (see point #2), it should also be perfectly plump. This means that it will be firm to the touch—think crisp and succulent—but not hard, squishy or limp.

While the perfect amount of firmness will vary for each type of produce, comparing within the batch can be very informative. For soft fruits, gently picking a piece up should tell you if it’s too soft or hard.

For vegetables with stalks like carrots and broccoli, be sure the ends don’t give too much when you try to bend them (but don’t try too hard or they might snap).

While this tip works as a general rule, keep in mind that it doesn’t apply to everything. Figs, for example, are better very soft, as are certain kinds of persimmons.

4. Fragrant aroma

Probably the most telling test of the quality of your fuit is how it smells. Unripe fruits smell like nothing, or at best the cardboard it was packed in. But ripe produce almost always smells faintly (and often overwhelmingly) of how it is supposed to taste.

Hold the part of the fruit that was attached to the stem close to your nose and breathe deeply. Compare a few of your options. The strongest smelling fruit will be the most ripe and ready to eat immediately. If you’d like your fruit to last for a few days, it is best to go with a piece that still smells good, but has a less overwhelming scent.

It’s also worth smelling your vegetables, though this tip does not apply to them all (eggplant is a notable exception). Green leafy vegetables and herbs are particularly fragrant. But even carrots, artichokes and squash can have a distinctive smell. Peppers are my personal favorite.

What are your tips for picking perfect produce?

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Intact Grains vs. Whole Grains

by | Nov 29, 2010

Photo by Venex_jpb

Photo by Venex_jpb

If there is a single subject that befuddles the health-conscious eater, it is undoubtedly carbohydrates.

Most of us have seen the impressive results of at least temporarily restricting carbs, but studies examining the long-term effects of carbohydrate restriction are often ambiguous. Also, while some experts argue fervently for a low-carb lifestyle, some nutritionists still warn about the dangers of eating too much fat or protein.

So how do we know what to believe?

A full examination of the science behind carbohydrate metabolism is beyond the scope of a single blog post, and is in fact not entirely understood by the scientific community (for a thorough review of this topic read Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I have reviewed here).

However, there are a few things we do know about carbohydrates that are worth pointing out.

Lesson 1: Refined grains contribute to nearly every chronic disease in modern civilization.

It is universally agreed in the nutrition community that refined, processed carbohydrates are the worst things to eat on the entire planet.

And it is impossible to overstate how remarkable this is.

The nutrition community is one of the most disagreeable bunches in all of science. But across the board–from vegans like Colin Campbell to carnivores like Robert Atkins–not a single one of them considers processed carbs to be nutritionally neutral. They all consider them dangerous.

Without question, refined carbohydrates contribute to poor health.

Lesson 2: Vegetables protect against nearly every chronic disease in modern civilization.

Where things start to get more complicated is with unrefined carbohydrates, and the various iterations of this definition. There is ample evidence that the carbohydrates contained in vegetables are not harmful, and possibly beneficial.

To call these vegetable carbohydrates “fiber” is to oversimplify the science, but suffice to say that vegetables are good for you and contribute to your good health.

This is also generally agreed upon.

Lesson 3: Whole grains are different from intact grains.

Few people will argue against my first two points. But bring up whole grains and you will unleash a fury of controversy. Some people believe whole grains to be the cornerstone of any healthy diet, while others consider them superfluous and possibly detrimental to good health. You can find dozens of PhDs and MDs to back up your claims no matter what camp you align with.

So why is there so much disagreement? What does the science say?

The problem is that nutrition science conducted in free-living humans is virtually impossible to interpret. This is largely because the studies are so difficult to control and people’s behavior and self-reporting are so unreliable. Another problem is that the definition of “whole grains” has been watered down to a point where it is virtually meaningless.

One reason whole grains are hard to identify is because the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created a definition that is friendly to food companies, but not to consumers.

The FDA requirements for a manufacturer to use the term “whole grain” on its label (along with the respective health claims) are as follows:

“Cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components – the starchy endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis - should be considered a whole grain food.” (emphasis added by me)

Get it? To be considered “whole,” grains do not actually have to be intact.

Thus food manufacturers create products using this loose definition to their advantage, demolishing grains as normal, then adding back the required ratios of grain parts (germ and bran) to meet the standard.

This is how products like Froot Loops get spiffy health labels claiming they lower heart disease when any unbiased nutrition scientist would agree that, with 41% sugar by weight, Froot Loops almost certainly contribute to heart disease.

On the other hand, there is compelling data that intact whole grains contribute to better health.

Lesson 4: Eating grains is a personal choice, not a nutritional imperative.

The good news is that it is really easy to tell the difference between fake “whole” grains and intact whole grains. If a food actually looks like a grain (i.e., it retains its original form and bran covering), then it is an intact grain. If it looks like a Cheerio, chip, loaf of bread or pasta with a “whole grain” label, then it is a fake whole grain.

People following a primal or paleo diet will argue that this difference is irrelevant and that all grains (and legumes?!) are unnecessary for good health. Personally I disagree, but remain fairly neutral on the personal choice of removing grains from the diet entirely.

Grains do not appear to be necessary for survival (Inuit tribes survive without them), but optimal nutrition may require slightly more effort than would be necessary following a traditional balanced diet.

This is generally how I feel about all healthy, restrictive regimens such as vegetarian, vegan and raw diets. You can make it work for yourself if you are willing to make sacrifices and put in the effort.

However you should be aware that for many people, myself included, cutting whole grains out of your diet completely is extremely difficult and, if you ask me, unnecessarily painful.

Conclusion

When making food choices about grains, the critical question is not whether or not a food is “whole” grain but whether the grain is intact. For this reason, it matters very little if you substitute “whole grain” products for regular refined products such as pasta.

Examples of intact grains are oats, barley, brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa (sort of) and faro. White rice is not a whole grain, and is closer to a refined grain than a whole grain.

For optimal health, processed and refined grains should be eaten very sparingly. Small amounts such as those eaten in traditional cultures can be part of any healthstyle, but including them is a personal choice that will depend on your own goals and preferences.

The irony is that if you are able to remove processed foods from your diet, the way you eat could probably be described as low-carb. But this label really undermines a healthstyle based on real food.

Though I eat relatively few grains compared to most Americans, I cringe when I see the shining example of low-carb living, The Atkins Diet website, with images of fake pancakes and pasta plastered all over it. If that is what low-carb is, I want nothing to do with it.

Processed food is still processed food, whether the carbohydrates have been synthetically removed or not. Stick to eating real food and you’ll never have to worry about carbs.

Do you count your carbohydrates?

Originally published November 25, 2009.

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How To Eat Healthy When You Have No Time

by | Dec 7, 2009
Photo by liquene

Photo by liquene

I’m always pretty busy, but these past couple weeks I have been especially slammed with work. I have a big thesis committee meeting coming up in lab that I want to be very well-prepared for. I also launched a 25-page free healthy eating guide last week, all amidst my 30th birthday and Thanksgiving in different cities.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I do it all (I stay focused and work hard), but some of you have asked an even more interesting question:

How do I have time to eat healthy?

The most truthful answer is that I always have time to eat healthy, because it is not something I consider optional. Healthy eating doesn’t really take any more time than unhealthy eating, it just requires a little more foresight. Luckily I have automated my healthstyle so that healthy eating is actually easier for me than eating junk.

However, when time is especially strained I do make a few adjustments to save on prep time and clean up.

Here are a few tricks I’ve been using to have healthy meals in under 15 minutes.

8 Quick Healthy Eating Tips

  1. Focus on single vegetable meals. If I were asked to make the quickest meal I could think of, I would grab a bunch of kale, a clove of garlic, some sea salt and maybe some pistachio nuts, put them in a pan and cook them for about 7 minutes. You can do this with chard, spinach, fennel, broccolini or any other green vegetable. For protein and carbohydrate I throw in some beans or lentils at the end. These aren’t the most creative meals in the world, but they are healthy, filling, quick and delicious enough to make friends jealous. I could live on these dinners for weeks at a time, and they only leave one pan to clean.
  2. Count on legumes. As mentioned above, it is important to have something other than vegetables in your meals or you will get really hungry. Nuts are a great addition to anything, but the most bang for your buck is beans and lentils. I make huge batches of these once or twice a week and throw them in virtually everything I cook. A pressure cooker makes legume preparation a piece of cake. If I’m really in a hurry I will just dress some legumes with vinaigrette, maybe throw in some herbs or fruit and call it lunch.
  3. Eat salads. I also add beans and lentils to salads to make them more substantial. It takes less than 5 minutes to slice up some Napa cabbage, toss in some beans, cut up a pear and sprinkle on walnuts with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a quick lunch. Salads don’t require cooking and I just eat it out of the bowl I make it in.
  4. Scramble eggs. By far the fastest cooking protein you can get is eggs. Scrambling 2-3 eggs takes about 2 minutes. Saute some spinach with a little garlic (you can use the same pan if you cook the greens first) and you have a healthy homemade meal in under 10 minutes. This works for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  5. Eat breakfast for dinner. Eggs aren’t the only food that can break the typical American meal pattern. If cooking at night really isn’t an option, sometimes I will just double up on my normal breakfast of muesli, fruit and plain yogurt and have it for dinner. Sure I’d rather eat leafy greens, but intact grains are sure better (and faster) than the burrito place down the street.
  6. Cook in large batches. In addition to legumes I also make intact whole grains in big batches and freeze them in single servings. These can be thawed in the  microwave in 1-2 minutes and added to any meal (stirfry, salads, soups, etc.) to make them more satisfying. During the autumn and winter I also rely on roasted winter squash like kabocha for additional vegetables/carbohydrates. My favorite is to cut a kabocha squash in half, remove seeds, rub the inside with olive and sea salt and roast, face down for 30-45 minutes at 400F. Three or 4 slices of winter squash make a plate of greens a lot more interesting. Store your cooked squash in a tupper and add it to various meals throughout the week. I like kabocha, red kuri and delicata squashes because, unlike butternut, you can eat the skin (no peeling).
  7. Have a reliable takeout option. The only trouble I sometimes run into is not having enough ingredients in the house to make a solid meal before heading out. For times like this I rely on a local artisan market, Bi-Rite, that has awesome healthy prepared foods. I’ll pick up a pint of lentil, chickpea or quinoa salad from their deli fridge and a piece of fruit, then I’m good to go. It is worth it to hunt down a place like this near your home or work that you know you can count on to pick something up in a pinch. Whole Foods has great prepared food options if you can find one near you.
  8. Carry fruit and nuts. The worst case scenario is that you get stuck outside the house with nothing but vending machines within walking distance. If you always have trail mix or nuts in your bag you can usually put off a meal until you can find something healthy. Don’t leave home without it.

What tricks do you use to eat healthy when you have no time?

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Vegetables, Nuts and Overall Healthy Diet Protect Against Heart Disease

by | Apr 20, 2009
Vegetables

Vegetables

Most scientists agree that diet plays an important role in heart disease, but until now there has been no comprehensive analysis of which dietary factors most strongly affect disease outcome. A new meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reviews six decades of research (1950-2007) to assess how different dietary factors affect heart disease. Vegetables, nuts, “Mediterranean” and high-quality dietary patterns are strongly protective, while trans-fat, foods with high glycemic index or load and a “Western” dietary pattern were shown to be harmful.

The Study

This new study is unique for several reasons. First, the authors were only interested in factors that influenced heart disease directly, not simply heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol levels. Also, emphasis was placed on high-quality studies designed to identify strong dietary associations (cohort studies and randomized controlled trials) with long periods of follow up (at least one year). They asked whether the studies they reviewed were consistent with other data such as epidemiological reports, and sought to establish a causal link between diet and heart disease outcomes. Another important goal of the analysis was to identify factors that lack sufficient evidence to be conclusive and require further research.

Results

In addition to identifying vegetables, nuts, high-quality and Mediterranean dietary patterns as being strongly protective against heart disease, they also found monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil), dietary folate (e.g. whole grains, not supplements), dietary vitamins C and E (not supplements), alcohol consumption (in any form) and omega-3 fatty acids from fish (not plants, e.g. flax) to be moderately protective.

Factors that were not associated with heart disease in this study were dietary supplements (e.g. vitamins C and E), total fat, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats (from plants), meat, eggs and milk. It is important to note, however, that negative findings in this analysis are not necessarily indicative of a lack of causality. Rather, it may indicate insufficient data to observe a significant positive association.

Dietary Patterns

The authors point out that “only overall healthy dietary patterns are significantly associated with coronary heart disease” in the controlled trials, while “evidence for most individual nutrients or foods is too modest to be conclusive.” They suggest that the reason an association exists for dietary patterns and not individual nutrients is that patterns “have the advantage of taking into account the complex interactions and cumulative effects of multiple nutrients within the entire diet.” The authors recommend future trials test various dietary patterns for disease outcome, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Taking this further, most dietary factors that were shown to be protective when consumed as part of a healthy diet were not protective when taken in supplement form. This finding bolsters the argument that overall diet rather than individual foods or nutrients are the best strategy for protecting against heart disease. The authors conclude that their findings suggest “investigating dietary patterns in cohort studies and randomized controlled trials for common and complex chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease.”

Based on their analysis, the dietary pattern that best protects against heart disease is rich in vegetables, nuts, fish, healthy fats, whole grains, and fruit. Likewise, the worst dietary pattern consists of refined carbohydrates and artificial trans-fats. The lesson: the best diet consists of plants, fish and whole foods, while processed foods contribute to heart disease.

What about red meat and saturated fats?

Interestingly, there was insufficient data to conclude that red meat or saturated fats are harmful for the heart. This is not terribly surprising, since the data has always been inconsistent. However, I would point out that many studies have looked at the role of red meat and saturated fat in coronary risk and the outcome always shows either harm or no result. And as explained above, no result can be indicative of a lack of statistical power rather than lack of causation. Importantly however, I cannot recall a single study suggesting that red meat and saturated fat is actually good for you.

From this the best we can conclude is that red meat or saturated fat may be involved in promoting heart disease, but if they are the effect is likely to be less harmful than a diet of processed foods. Practically this means small doses of saturated fat may not do much harm when eaten as a part of an overall healthy diet. This is a fairly compelling argument for exercising moderation.

Conclusions

Before you run out and order a ribeye, keep in mind that heart disease is not the only debilitating chronic disease that plagues our culture. Red meat is also associated with several kinds of cancer. Likewise, refined carbohydrates are highly correlated with type 2 diabetes. Vegetables and whole grains are protective against these other diseases as well, and fish may play a role in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.

The take home lesson is that both diet and disease are complex systems that involve innumerable factors in several different regions of the body. When choosing what to eat it is important that you consider the context of your overall diet and do not get caught up is single foods or a single disease threat.

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